The Darker Side of Love: 3 Ways to Identify an Abusive Relationship

Relationships can look perfect from the outside, like a sweet rom-com movie poster. All white picket fences, sweet nothings full of love. You can see the two people, madly entwined in the romantic side life.

So life must be better being together, right? Not always. There is a lot you aren’t seeing behind the scenes.

The darker side of love is sometimes one where the people who we believe love us the most can be those who hurt us the most. An abusive partner knows your weaknesses and instead of protecting you, nurturing you, or helping to heal your wounds,  finds subtle or not so subtle ways of hurting, manipulating and/or controlling you. This is abuse. Plain and simple.

Abuse does not have to be physical to be considered abuse. Emotional abuse leaves its own mark on you -- one others can’t always see.


So, what does an abusive relationship look like?


  1. You find yourself blaming yourself for everything. If only you were better, prettier, skinnier, funnier (whatever you try to change about yourself to make them feel better about themselves) then your significant other would be happy. Often times people in abusive relationships will use you emotionally or physically to take their feelings of inadequacy out on you. And they will try to convince you that it’s your fault. Every time. No matter what. DO NOT believe them, that gives it life and power. The longer you stay in a relationship with them, the more likely you are to start believing it really is all your fault. (Again, it ISN’T.)
  2. Your significant other never says sorry, or admits that they did something wrong. I don’t care how amazing your husband, girlfriend or partner is -- NO ONE is perfect. And if someone refuses to recognize that they have hurt you (in whatever way it manifests itself) when you are in a relationship with them, then at best you are really limited in how you can communicate with them. This means that it is more difficult to find a way to resolve conflicts and have a healthy relationship. At worst, you have an abusive power dynamic where they are never wrong, and will not change to stop hurting you.
  3. You minimize your feelings or your emotional needs. It’s amazing what you can try to survive on emotionally, how little emotional nourishment you’ll allow yourself to sustain. A day without an argument becomes something amazing you cherish instead of something that should be the norm. You try to be okay with how often your significant other mistreats you, but no matter how much you walk on eggshells around them, they still get upset with you (over even the tiniest little thing). Your life revolves around managing the calm before the next argument.


Protecting yourself from an abusive partner takes a lot of courage. One of the hardest things you can do is stand up to someone who is hurting you and refuses to acknowledge that they are doing anything wrong. Talking at home (in what is supposed to be a safe, comforting space) can be difficult as they are used to mistreating you there. You might want to consider talking to them in public, on the phone, or in writing to voice how their actions hurt you. Telling them how this is abuse is less about getting them to admit that they are wrong and more about acknowledging to yourself, and them, that this is not normal--or OK. Depending on your relationship, you may be in a situation where you need to take action and remove yourself from the situation in order to stay emotionally or physically safe. Do not hesitate to ask for help.

Abuse has the most power over you when it is a secret.

Where can you start? Who can you tell what is going on? If it is too hard to tell family or friends, perhaps telling someone at a hotline, or beginning therapy may be where you start. Sharing your experience is the first step in your journey to healing yourself and understanding how abuse is not your fault and you deserve more.

If you need support, reach out. Here are some resources to help you find assistance:

Vanessa Spooner, Psy.D.